The identities of 250 victims of abuse were revealed through an emailing error when a monthly newsletter was sent without the names of recipients being anonymised. The organisation responsible for the newsletter apologised for the breach and said steps were being taken to investigate how it occurred. A spokesperson said “we have been in touch with all concerned to inform them of this unfortunate development,” he added.
Some of the individuals named had been part of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry in Northern Ireland and had chosen to remain anonymous. The HIA inquiryhad investigated historical allegations of child abuse at 22 residential institutions run by religious, charitable and state organisations across Northern Ireland in a 73-year period. One survivor said that she was “extremely annoyed and upset”. Another said he was “horrified”.
Email is an essential communication tool for organisations. Unfortunately, it can be the source of a number of common data protection errors which can cause personal data breaches. Typically, these breaches, which are almost always the result of human error, can, depending on the content, result in a risk to the individuals whose personal data has been compromised.
Organisations committing these breaches should offer an apology and, if there is a risk of harm, (which includes not only financial loss but also distress – regardless of its severity – to someone as a result),notify the ICO.